The performer or the recording artist behind a song is often what makes a song special for music lovers. However, behind the performer, there is a slew of different team members who have worked to make the song come to life. One of the members of this team is a songwriter. Creating the words and melodies that can affect the world so profoundly, these songwriters aren’t always in the spotlight despite the gratitude that they deserve. Thanks to this past weekend’s Songwriters’ Festival in downtown Baton Rouge, many highly successful country songwriters were able to get a little recognition for the work that they’ve put into the music industry.
Stretching over three days, the festival included over 80 songwriters and singer-songwriters (focused on Nashville songwriters), headlined by the world-renowned songwriter Jeffrey Steele. The artists performed three at a time in four staple venues of downtown – Happy’s Irish Pub, Lucy’s Bar and Restaurant, Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar and Hotel Indigo – with the headlining show taking place in the Manship Theatre.
Although most of the songwriters in the festival share a genre, they all have different experiences and preferences regarding their careers. Helen Darling, a singer-songwriter from Baton Rouge, said that she started as a singer but discovered that songwriting was a better fit for her.
“[As a songwriter], you can focus on the art of it whereas the artists have to do interviews, and they’re gone on the road all the time,” she said. She also said that songwriters tend to make more money per song than artists and that she actually prefers the relative anonymity of not having a celebrity status.
“I like being in the background,” she said. “The respect paid to a writer is that people listen to their music, they download it, and that they want them to keep doing it, but really in terms of getting out your name and being on TV, none of that matters, at least not to me.”
However, many of the songwriters at the festival are also singers and performers, some writing exclusively for themselves or their bands. For instance, Benjy Davis of the Benjy Davis Project – well known for their hit, “Louisiana Saturday Night” – performed some of his songs along with David Borné and Kree Harrison at Happy’s. The trio mostly played songs they’d written for themselves, bringing some smooth, contemporary, acoustic folk to the open-air pub. As with most of the festival, people wandered in and out of the open doors and front-porch-like setup of each venue. Overcast and cool, the weather was perfect for wandering between venues, and the smell of cigarette smoke and beer, along with the echoing of southern twang and acoustic guitars, solidified the Louisiana culture that brought this festival to life.
“Ideally, five years from now, this will be an event that a lot of people in Baton Rouge look forward to coming to,” said CJ Solar, another singer-songwriter out of Baton Rouge that found his place in Nashville. “It’s really good for the live music that people are creating here, and it’s fun for us [Nashville songwriters] to come down and get to play our songs. Hopefully, we can help the Baton Rouge original music scene blossom a little more.”
Solar was one of four openers for the main show with Jeffrey Steele, and he showed a lot of respect and admiration for Steele’s talent. Steele’s performance was packed with impressive vocals, as well as plenty of anecdotes about his songwriting experiences, ranging from the death of his son to the multiple rejections of the song that became Rascal Flatts’ hit “What Hurts The Most.” There was plenty of humor to go around as well, but ultimately, Steele showed the personal intimacy involved in songwriting, and Solar shared that desire for a personal connection to the songs he writes.
“I’ve always thought that if I don’t like a song, if I’m trying to write it for someone else or if I just don’t really care a whole lot, then I’m sure nobody else is going to really care,” he said. “So, I try to make sure it’s something that I really believe in.”